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September 8, 2022

Highest-paid college football coaches 2022: Dabo Swinney’s latest extension sees him climb the ranks

The highest-paid college football coaches have annual salaries that’ll make anyone’s head spin, but that’s why they’re put in charge of numerous young men and tasked with shepherding powerhouse programs to perpetual prominence.

While some coaches on this list at the nation’s premier football schools probably aren’t going to surprise, the order may well be a shock to many. One thing to keep in mind, being among the highest-paid college football coaches doesn’t guarantee job security. From our list in 2021, three prominent names were fired.

Without further ado, here are the highest-paid college football coaches by annual salary as of the most recent season. This group is compiled from USA Today‘s list, but takes into account coaching changes, compensation information, or lack thereof, and the latest available information.

Just missed:

  • Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern – $5.748 million
  • Chip Kelly, UCLA Bruins – $5.6 million
  • Steve Sarkisian, Texas – $5.45 million

Highest-paid coaches fired in 2021:

  • Gary Patterson, TCU – $6.1 million salary
  • Dan Mullen, Florida – $7.57 million salary
  • Ed Orgeron, LSU – $9.01 million salary

One thing to keep in mind, the salaries of the highest paid coaches in college football aren’t slowing down. Even before it landed USC and UCLA, the Big Ten wanted huge money for the TV rights to its games. When college football realignment leads to super conferences, even more coaches will make $10-plus million each year.

Let’s dive into the highest paid college football coaches in 2022.

13. James Franklin salary: $7 million (Penn State)

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Penn State Nittany Lions head coach is one of the best at using leverage to land an extension. Rumored to be a coaching candidate for the LSU Tigers, Miami Hurricanes and USC Trojans, Franklin turned that into a pay raise and more job security in Happy Valley.

Keep in mind, the Nittany Lions didn’t have a great season. For the second consecutive year, Penn State finished with five losses and ended the regular season outside the top-25 college football rankings. But the new James Franklin contract, a 10-year deal worth $70 million, makes him one of the highest-paid coaches in college football and Penn State seems pleased with the results.

12. Jim Harbaugh salary: $7.05 million (Michigan)

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After flirting with the NFL, Jim Harbaugh landed the contract extension he wanted. The University of Michigan officially announced his new extension, rewarding the head coach for a phenomenal 2021 season. After taking a pay cut to stick around last year, Harbaugh now joins the list of the highest-paid college football coaches.

  • Jim Harbaugh record: 61-24 at Michigan, 1-5 in bowl games

The new deal provides a $7.05 million base salary in 2022, per The Detroit News. Importantly, there is also a clause regarding a buyout. If Harbaugh leaves Michigan next year, he owes the university $3 million. Departing in 2023 would result in a $2.25 million buyout and a $1.5 million buyout to Michigan if he exits in 2024.

11. Lane Kiffin salary: $7.25 million (Ole Miss)

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The Mississippi Rebels hired Lane Kiffin with the hope the polarizing coach could turn their program around within a few years. Following a 5-5 season in 2020, Kiffin’s Rebels became a college football power this season and finished with a 10-2 record.

Unsurprisingly, Kiffin was rewarded. With plenty of bigger programs inquiring, Ole Miss added Kiffin’s name to the growing list of highest-paid coaches in college football. Kiffin received a $3 million raise from his current salary and will pull in an average value of $7.25 million. Of course, the deal carries additional incentives that can make it worth even more.

10. Jimbo Fisher salary: $7.5 million (Texas A&M)

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When Jimbo Fisher resigned from Florida State, it was unclear what his coaching future held. Texas A&M turned to him to get its program trending in the right direction, and Fisher has done just that. A 9-1 mark in 2020, including 8-1 in the SEC, saw the Aggies just miss out on the College Football Playoff.

The Aggies were viewed as a disappointment last year, compared to the expectations placed on this team. But beating Alabama, many felt that sent a message about the emerging state of Texas A&M’s football program.

It’s fitting that two of the highest-paid college football coaches are now bitter rivals, adding to the stakes of the 2022 season. While we’re not ready to argue for Fisher receiving a pay raise, he could earn it if the Aggies live up to our top 25 college football rankings.

9. Mario Cristobal salary: $8 million (Miami)

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The Miami Hurricanes are finally taking football seriously once again and it leads to a new entrant in our highest-paid coaches in college football rankings. Fresh off a 10-win season with the Oregon Ducks, Mario Cristobal is headed back to Miami.

It doesn’t come as a surprise. Cristobal grew up in Miami and played offensive tackle for the Hurricanes. With a 35-13 record in five seasons at Oregon, he was always considered a potential candidate to leave for another job. But the Hurricanes haven’t spent money like this before and the sudden change is why they landed their top target.

A former 247 Sports’ National Recruiter of the Year, Cristobal lands in one of the most talent-rich regions in the country. It’s going to take some time to build the Hurricanes back up, but the new commitment being shown by administrators and boosters is a sign that “The U” could be back soon.

As for Cristobal, he didn’t waste time spending some of that new salary. The Miami coach is going to be quite comfortable in his Miami mansion.

8. David Shaw salary: $8.925 million

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It might come as a huge surprise for some to see David Shaw is among the highest paid coaches in college football. The Stanford Cardinal coach thrived in his early years as the Jim Harbaugh replacement, delivering five double-digit win seasons from 2011-’16. However, Stanford is 11-19 in the last three years and Stanford is no longer the kind of football program another conference might want to steal from the Pac-12. Shaw shouldn’t be in any danger of being fired right now, but it’s fair to say his win-to-salary ratio isn’t stacking up with his peers.

7. Ryan Day salary: $9.5 million (Ohio State)

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Stepping in as Urban Meyer’s successor couldn’t have been easy for Ryan Day, but the Buckeyes haven’t missed a beat since he took the reins. In four seasons as the Ohio State head coach, Day boasts a phenomenal 34-4 record with one College Football National Championship Game appearance (2020).

After earning $6.614 million in 2021, Ohio State finally bumped up the salary for the leader of its program. The new two-year Ryan Day contract extension is worth $9.5 million per season, immediately making him one of the highest-paid college football coaches in 2022. If Ohio State wins a national championship this season, Day should clear $10 million with ease.

6. Mel Tucker salary: $9.5 million (MIchigan State)

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Hired in 2020, Mel Tucker turned a great opportunity into becoming of the highest-paid college football coaches within two years. The Spartans went 2-5 in a COVID-impacted 2020 season, but everything came together this year. On the verge of a double-digit win year, Tucker earned a 10-year extension worth $95 million. While his contract has just a $5.9 million base salary, there is an additional $3.2 million in supplemental compensation and it averages $9.5 million per year.

Now, let’s dive into the top 5 highest paid coaches in college football.

5. Brian Kelly salary: $9.5 million (LSU)

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Days after saying he would never leave the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, unless he was offered $250 million, Brian Kelly became the LSU Tigers head coach. Fourth amongst the active leaders in coaching wins (166), Kelly’s “Irish Exit” from Notre Dame is a repeat of his departure from Cincinnati to join the Fighting Irish.

While he didn’t land $250 million, he easily grabs a spot among the highest-paid college football coaches. Previous reports indicated the deal is worth $100-plus million over 10 years. However, the official terms per LSU are $95 million over 10 years. There are likely reachable incentives that will push the total value well past $100 million.

  • Brian Kelly contract: 10 years, $95 million

LSU’s coaching change is going to be the costliest in college football history. Ed Orgeron received a $17 million buyout and when combined with Kelly’s contract, it’s a staggering total being spent. But the Tigers are confident that a coach who posted a 113-40 record at Notre Dame with five consecutive double-digit win seasons will bring a national championship to Baton Rouge.

4. Lincoln Riley salary (estimated): $10-plus million (USC)

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What is Lincoln Riley’s salary? We don’t really know. The USC Trojans aren’t required to provide financial details on his deal thanks to the program being a private school. Based on the limited information reported, we can pretty safely say Riley is the highest paid college football coach.

  • Lincoln Riley record: 55-10, 1-2 in bowl games

Early estimates project the deal worth over $10 million per season in average salary with incentives for Pac 12 Championships, College Football Playoff appearances and national championships. Given his resume, that’s easily worth it if he can turn around the Trojans. We could be on the verge of USC becoming a football factory, too. With NIL deals for quarterback Caleb Williams, top assistants and staffers from around the country joining Riley’s program, USC is going beyond having the most paid college football coach.

If you’re wondering what one of the highest-paid college football coaches does with his money, we already know. Riley bought a mansion in Los Angeles, worth $17.2 million. Just take a look for yourself, the features and views are absurd. It might only be a few years in the Big Ten before Riley gets a pay raise, given the revenue those TV rights deals will generate.

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3. Kirby Smart salary: $11.25 million (Georgia)

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Following a lengthy tenure as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama, Kirby Smart made the leap to head coach at Georgia in 2016. Smart’s maiden year in Athens produced a meager 8-5 record, but he’s been lights-out since then.

The Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time since 1982. With the best defense in college football and a quality offense, it looked like everything was coming together for Smart’s program. But an ugly loss in the SEC Championship Game made everyone wonder if the Dawgs would ever get over the hump against Alabama.

That’s no longer a question. Georgia’s playoff run, which culminated with a three-touchdown fourth quarter vs. Alabama in the title game, brings a national title back to Georgia. As everyone celebrates, the Kirby Smart contract incentives kick in. He received an additional $850,000 in on-field bonuses for the playoff run, including a $200K bonus for the title.

Finally, the Kirby Smart contract extension arrives. According to Chris Low of ESPN, Smart signed a 10-year contract with a total of $112.5 million. The details of the deal, including bonuses and annual salary each year, weren’t provided.

2. Dabo Swinney salary: $11.5 million (Clemson)

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Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to the College Football Playoff in the past six seasons, claiming two national championships in that span. The Tigers are an absolute juggernaut in the ACC, and Swinney is deservedly among the highest-paid college football coaches.

However, it’s fair to say Swinney didn’t entirely earn his salary in 2021. Clemson’s offense never showed up in the season-opening loss to Georgia and it barely made an appearance in a 14-8 win over Georgia Tech. But that 27-21 loss to North Carolina State gave this program two losses in September for the first time in years. Maybe it was the generational quarterbacks carrying Clemson and not the coach.

But now the Tigers are all-in on their head coach again, giving Swinney a 10-year, $115 million contract extension, locking him in until 2031. It’s the largest college football contract in the history of the sport. We’ll see if his Tigers can bounce back this season.

1. Nick Saban salary: $11.7 million (Alabama)

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Hardly a surprise that the best coach to ever do it on the NCAA gridiron is also once again the highest-paid college football coach. Nick Saban’s “process” is the stuff of legend, and it’s led to a 183-25 record at Alabama, along with six national championships.

In August, the Alabama university’s board of trustees approved an extension to his current deal that would take it all the way to February of 2030. However, and more importantly, they also bumped up his pay by $2 million annually. He will now make $11.7 million each year which now makes him the highest-paid coach in all of college football…again.